There’s a risk that I’m going to piss people off by what I say here; even a risk that I might lose friends over it. I hope not; I think generally I have pretty smart, wise, tolerant people as friends. But I’ve seen other friendships die this election season, and…you know what? After thinking about it all day, I think I have to say it anyway.
Just do me a favor and if you get annoyed in the beginning, at least hear me out – okay? I might not be saying what you assume I am.
I’ve been seeing a lot of comments, pretty much everywhere, that Mike Pence is a bigger threat than Trump. And that bothers me – not because I’m necessarily a fan of the Vice President-Elect, but because of what it says about the way we view our political system.
First up: If you feel that way, I’m not trying to change your mind. But if you think a bog standard representative of the Republican party is worse than a man who’s consistently displayed not only racism, bigotry and misogyny, but also a lack of stability in his views and a focus on his own ego, then I’m going to guess that the only political option you think has merit is a government controlled wholly by Democrats, and your ideal would be a scenario where the Democrats are in power forever.
And that’s fine. But we live in a democratic republic, and that means people get to choose their representatives, and we flip back and forth pretty regularly in terms of who’s in charge because this honking big country is made up of a variety of viewpoints. If someone (not me, since I clearly couldn’t choose) could wave a magic wand and say, ‘We’re now a one party country, where Party X will forever be in charge,’ …that would be the end of us.
Trump wasn’t elected by racists. He empowered them, and my fear is that’s not going to be easy to undo, if it’s even possible. And they certainly voted for him. But so did other people – including the nice black man who lives down the street from me and proudly displays his Trump bumper sticker.
No, Trump was elected by people who rejected the Democrats. And yeah, you can argue that point by talking about people who didn’t bother to vote, or people who voted third-party (also a way of saying no to the Democrats); you can point out that Hillary won the popular vote, or half a dozen other things that may have/did/could have influenced the outcome, but the bottom line is that a lot of people didn’t want what the Democrats are selling. (Remember who I voted for, please, before you call me names.)
Like it or not, they didn’t just elect Trump. They put Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress. If that’s not a clear way of saying, ‘we the people want something different,’ I don’t know what is.
Here’s the reality as I see it, and it’s just as true when the Republicans are in charge: the dominant party finds it way too easy to ignore the people who don’t agree with them, to not hear them, and then pretend they’re simply not there. Echo chambers don’t just exist on Facebook. People surround themselves with people they agree with, and then pretend no one else is there. (Hello, fandom…)
This is where I hope people are still reading:
If you want a different world, there are two things you can do to make a difference.
First, your rights didn’t stop with voting. Your representatives in Congress represent you, whether you voted for them or not. Find out who they are. Put their phones numbers on speed dial. Pay attention to what they’re doing, and call them. Tell them what you want them to do or not do. Be polite – there’s no point in being an asshole – and just keep telling them. Politicians exist in echo chambers, too, and they want desperately to keep their jobs.
Yes. It takes longer to call and write your representatives than it does to vent on social media. But the former can actually change things. It often feels to me like people are bitching on Facebook and Twitter because they feel powerless, when their true power is in letting their voices be heard not by their followers but by their representatives.
Second, listen. If you really want to make to a difference, start listening to people you disagree with. Take time to learn their stories, to find out why they feel the way they do. And no, I’m not advocating giving time to racists, nor to being patronizing. People are smarter than that. They’ll know if you’re only pretending to be interested in them in hopes of changing their politics.
I said in my previous post that some who voted for Obama in 2012 voted for Trump in 2016. If you want to swing them back your way for 2018, make sure they feel heard. (Or, you know, if you’re a Republican who wants to make sure they continue to vote for your party, same goes. People will probably be disillusioned pretty quickly by Trump: if you think the Republicans have the answers, don’t just assume that people will vote the same way in 2018 that they did last week.)
Friendship, where people feel respected and heard, changes minds. (And yeah, that can go two ways: listening with an open mind to people who think differently than you can sometimes result in your mind changing, but that’s the risk of tolerance and civility.)
You earn the right to tell someone why you think your party has a solution for them by listening to what they need. It’s a meme, but it’s true: no one has ever changed their opinion because someone on Twitter told them they were stupid.
I’ve seen multiple comments by people insisting that everyone who voted for Trump is obviously a racist. I’m not sure what the point is, really, beyond the cathartic release of expressed rage. Racists aren’t going to change their mind because someone calls them what they are, and non-racists who handed over the whole enchilada to the Republicans…I’m thinking being called a bigot isn’t going to convince them they should give the Democrats another chance in 2018 – but what do I know?
This is true for all of us, regardless of party: The harder it is for us to fathom why someone might have voted the way they did, the more important it is for us – and our party – to try to understand. Because whether or not we’re interested in them, they vote.